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Home Events & Trade News Handmade elegance, fashioable style
Handmade elegance, fashioable style
Event & Exhibition

Hong Kong’s Maggie Cheung dressed in more than 20 qipao outfits when filming the movie In the Mood for Love (2005). The colours, styles and materials used in the actor's traditional dresses changed throughout the movie, expressing a sense of elegance and style that touched many who saw the movie. This kindled a return of the qipao as a heartfelt fashion statement.

As one of the most traditional and typical dresses for Chinese women, the qipao has spawned many stories in its history of change and adaption, but in the Chinese people’s minds, it always symbolizes elegance, nobility and fashion.

Yet, it seems that this typical representative of Chinese culture finds itself ensnared in a clothing industry dilemma: the traditional skills used to make qipao are threatened with extinction. Few companies remain that are really qualified to make a traditional qipao in China, especially those using traditional skills. Worse yet, few women wear qipao in their daily lives, preferring to wear them on TV shows or during some special occasions.

In December 2007, Shuangshun Qipao reopened in the flagship shop of Beijing Hong Du Corporation Groups in Dongjiao Minxiang after a more than 20-year hiatus. The return of this qipao brand brought surprise and attracted a lot of enthusiasm from the media and fashion circles.

In fact, the reopening of Shuangshun Qipao symbolizes more than the reopening of a clothing shop; it means the renaissance of the qipao as a traditional handicraft, although it still has a long way to go in awaiting the renaissance of peoples’ minds.

Shuangshun was established by a man named Han Junfeng in early 1920s. On its debut, Shuangshun was known for making all kinds of clothes, not just for specializing in making the qipao. Their standards related to custom tailoring and meticulous attention to detail gained them a good reputation, and over the years, Shuangshun became a big clothes-making shop with more than 40 working staff. This was regarded as a giant enterprise in the clothing industry at that time in Beijing. Today, Shuangshun has been cited as a China Time Honoured Brand (Zhonghua Laozihao)

One important reason for Shuangshun's fame was its willingness to engage in innovation, especially in the making of qipao. The old style qipao had a plunging neckline topped with a high, standing collar which sometimes could abrade the neck. Han and his co-workers turned to a smaller collar, lighter open front and more accommodating waistline. After the reform, the new style qipao replaced the old one and was welcomed by the ladies in 1930s, when Shuangshun earned the nickname: Qipao King. Since then, Shuangshun has become an outstanding representative of the Beijing-style qipao, favoured by many in the upper echelons of society.

After the liberation of Beijingin 1949, the social economy recovered gradually; Shuangshun transferred some of its service focus to the common people. But it was given another task: that of making qipao for the wives of national leaders who ventured on trips abroad.

But Shuangshun’s fortune did not always come easily. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), it was closed, reopening in 1982, after which it made dresses for many celebrities, overseas Chinese and some foreign guests, including former First Lady of the United States Nancy Reagan, wife of Ronald Reagan. But after that short burst of new spring life, Shuangshun failed to blossom along with the flourishing economy as had been expected. It closed down in 1992, and its craftsmen were dismissed. The reason was simple: handmade luxury was overwhelmed by the fast developing social economy; it could not compete with modern manufacturing.

The pace of people’s lives was quickening: “It was impossible for a woman to wear an elegant qipao to catch a bus in the morning,” said the Guo Quanjin, director of the general-office of the Beijing Hong Du Corporation Groups. Another reason for Shuangshun Qipao’s decline was social trends; too many ladies were inclined to wear qipao. Finally, the qipao became a uniform for waitresses in restaurants and hotels or for shopping attendants.

Some women were heard to say: “If I went to a banquet, but found I was wearing the same kind of qipao worn by the waitress, how awkward it will be!”

So the reopening of Shuangshun Qipao has its own special merits. High-quality qipao are still sought for the wardrobes of many Chinese women. The machine-made uniform qipao is a completely different dress than the traditional Chinese qipao, whether you consider materials or the handicraft, colours and styles involved. The traditional Chinese qipao made by Shuangshun must be custom-tailored with 36 measurements of the customer and decorated with special handmade fasteners. At Shuangshun, people can find more than 100 styles of fasteners to choose from.

Another secret of a high-quality traditional qipao is the craftsmanship of design and making. Tailors must communicate with their customers and measure them before making suggestions concerning materials, styles, colours and decorative appointments. Before a customer dons a new dress, she will likely have visited the shop at least three times to test her qipao; such is the patience required to ensure an exact fit to the customer. Because of this process, a perfect qipao will take no less than two weeks to make, even longer for a more complicated style. And all of this comes with a cost: a Shuangshun Qipao costs anywhere from 2,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan (US$276–$1,381), while a machine-made qipao in a shopping market may cost no more than 1,000 yuan (US$138). Then there are the materials: Shuangshun uses silk or satin, which can drive the price up by 10 times over that of the silk-like fabrics used in making common uniform qipao.

Shuangshun believes in its high quality and rosy tomorrow: it has recalled its traditional craftsmen and has rekindled its spirit. If you go to the Shuangshun’s Qipao shop in Dongjiao Minxiang, you can meet some of the inheritors of Shuangshun Qipao's clothes-making skills, skills that are now recognized as a part of the city’s intangible cultural heritage. Recognition at the national level is being sought.

Address: 28 Dongjiao Minxiang